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Will Brexit Lead to a Fracking Free-For-All?

22/07/2016 10:10 | Updated 22 July 2016

The last couple weeks has caused quite a stir in British politics. Theresa May's baffling decision to dissolve the Department of Energy and Climate Change has driven environmental groups into a state of panic as they ponder what on earth is going to happen to Britain's beautiful landscape and fresh clean air.

Last year fracking was a hot topic after the introduction of a new planning guidance that not only sped up the fracking planning process, but enabled Government to overrule local councils that decide against it. This alone was a testament to David Cameron's stance on the issue, who has repeatedly suggested that EU fracking regulations are too restrictive.

At present EU law protects 73 environmental areas that impose limits on fracking; rules that are intended to prevent water contamination, air pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals (among other protections). When Brexit is finally implemented, these laws are unlikely to be entirely withdrawn; however, they could be significantly diluted. Greenpeace energy campaigner Hannah Martin expressed her concerns long before the referendum, stating ""Weak and patchy as they are, the UK's fracking regulations could be even worse without the bedrock provided by over a dozen separate EU directives." Even with strict controls, many believe that the Government isn't doing enough to tackle the issue, and worry that things are only going to get worse.

Although Britain's exit from the EU is a concern, it's important to remember that even without EU protections operators must still gain various competitive licenses, including landowner permission, planning permission, and permits from either the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, in order to drill. Hopefully we can all take some solace knowing that it won't simply be a free-for-all.

Instead of utilising shale gas, green campaigners argue that the Government should invest in renewable energy. However, as we're currently in a serious state of economic uncertainty, economics must be factored into the equation. Of course, any reasonable person would agree that sustainable, environmentally solutions are a much better option than burning fossil fuels. And while it's easy to simply say "Stop Fracking," there's no denying that the entire industry is good for economic growth. And the offset of growth is that there will be more money to invest in eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives. Fundamentally, fracking could work alongside green solutions rather than take over them.

According to the British Geological Survey (BGS), there is an estimated 1300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in northern England. Harnessing it would significantly ease the economical burden of relying on fuel importation. But from an environmental standpoint, the use of shale gas simply cannot be just justified, as every cubic metre will still contribute towards climate change. And that's not to mention the sheer amount of water that's required during the extraction process. According to Vicky Baily of Electric Radiators Direct - a subsidiary of Eco Stores Direct Ltd - "an average of eight million gallons is required to frack just one well once." During a time where we are being encouraged to conserve water at home, this hardly seems justified either.

That said, in today's modern world fracking technology is advancing at a rapid rate, and if Britain decided to take the same direction as some of the larger American companies, at least the process itself (not taking the burning of shale gas into account) wouldn't be so harmful. For example, American company, GasFrac, have recently developed new waterless fracking technology that uses a gel-based propane instead. Not only is it based on a hydrocarbon that's already found underground, it uses chemical treatments that are relatively harmless, such as magnesium oxide and ferric sulfate - both of which are used in water treatment plants. This process eliminates the need to drain waste water and haul it away. Fundamentally, the process of today's fracking cannot be compared with the process of yesterday's fracking.

Britain has significantly improved its carbon footprint over the last decade, not only meeting targets imposed on the Climate Change Act regulations, but exceeding them well in advance. While that doesn't justify adding fracking to the agenda, it does prove just how much we can achieve as a society, and how seriously we take environmental causes, with or without the European Union. So will there be a fracking free-for-all? Not quite. Unfortunately the industry will inevitably expand, but probably not in the way people are expecting.

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